An often feared piece of kitchen equipment, and for good reason, the mandoline is an essential in my kitchen. Essentially, this tool is a knife used on a horizontal plane within a fixed structure, almost like a manually run deli slicer, but don’t expect to cut meat with these tools. Consistency is the term that comes to mind when using a mandoline, and consistency is incredibly important in the kitchen when it comes to cooking, plating and eating.
The best aspect of working with a mandoline is the uniformity of the work it produces. As good as we think our knife skills are, it’s incredibly difficult to recreate the same thickness of slice over and over again. especially at the thinness possible on a mandoline. The depth of the plane is adjustable to form the thickness of the slices, and typically mandoline’s come with other attachment blades that run perpendicular to create julienne & waffle cuts. Probably the most important attachment is the hand guard, which typically spikes into your product holding it firm as you run the food against the plane.
A mandoline should only be used for firm unyielding foods like root vegetables. Softer or flexible foods won’t slice across the plane correctly, and might either get crushed or bend which could lead to loss of control and potential injury. Always use the hand guard, but if you find yourself without make sure you never go faster than you’re comfortable, and use a flat palm fingers curled up technique. If you feel an uncomfortable amount of resistance against the blade stop and reevaluate the food to be sliced or even the sharpness of the blade itself. Make sure you cut your product first with a knife to create a flat surface for the mandoline blade to go against. The maximum size of food you can use is determined by the width of your manoline. If something is too big it won’t sit right against the plane causing uneven cuts at best and potential injury at worst. Cutting your product down to smaller manageable pieces makes your work safer and typically faster. With practice you’ll get the feel for how a mandoline works, and I recommend trying a cucumber (make sure it’s a firm one) if it’s your first time. While they’re fairly firm, a cucumbers softer skin allows the blade to get in and through without much applied pressure. One kitchen tip for perfect matchsticks or a brunoise (micro dice) cut is to run the product through a mandoline first and then finish the work with your chef’s knife. This can dramatically influence the consistency and speed of your final work.
There are different types of mandoline’s at different price points, and typically that differences are found in the design, sturdiness of materials used, and attachments. A mandoline that I’ve found in all the kitchens I’ve worked in, and featured in the pics throughout this post is a Japanese style Benriner mandlone. It’s a complete workhorse of a tool and at a fairly low price. While the main body is made out of plastic compared to the typical stainless steel French style, the body is incredibly rigid with no flexing, the blades are razor sharp and are easy to clean.
Mandoline’s can create beautiful results at a fast pace and with consistency. A healthy dose of respect should be given towards the mandoline when using it, but hesitation and fear can also get you hurt if you’re not applying the proper handling techniques and firm pressure needed to get the product across the blade. Never forget that it’s a tool, and it’s all in how you use and maintain your tools, and with that respect it will pay you in bountiful beautiful work.